Sethi, J. -
(1.)'Rule of Law' is the basic rule of governance of any civilised democratic policy. Our constitutional scheme is based upon the concept of Rule of Law which we have adopted and given to ourselves. Everyone, whether individually or collectively is unquestionably under the supremacy of law. Whoever the person may be, however high he or she is, no-one is above the law notwithstanding how powerful and how rich he or she may be. For achieving the establishment of the rule of law, the Constitution has assigned the special task to the judiciary in the country. It is only through the Courts that the rule of law unfolds its contents and establishes its concept. For the judiciary to perform its duties and functions effectively and true to the spirit with which it is sacredly entrusted, the dignity and authority of the Courts have to be respected and protected at all costs. After more than half a century of independence, the judiciary in the country is under a constant threat and being endangered from within and without. The need of the time is of restoring confidence amongst the people for the independence of judiciary. Its impartiality and the glory of law has to be maintained, protected and strengthened. The confidence in the Courts of justice, which the people possess, cannot, in any way, be allowed to be tarnished, diminished or wiped out by contumacious behaviour of any person. The only weapon of protecting itself from the onslaught to the institution is the long hand of contempt of Court left in the armoury of judicial repository which, when needed, can reach any neck howsoever high or far away it may be. In In Re, Vinay Chandra Mishra (the alleged contemner) (AIR 1995 SC 2348), this Court reiterated the position of law relating to the powers of contempt and opined that the judiciary is not only the guardian of the rule of law and third pillar but in fact the central pillar of a democratic State. If the judiciary is to perform its duties and functions effectively and true to the spirit with which they are sacredly entrusted to it, the dignity and authority of the Courts have to be respected and protected at all costs. Otherwise the very corner-stone of our constitutional scheme will give way and with it will disappear the rule of law and the civilized life in the society. It is for this purpose that the Courts are entrusted with extraordinary powers of punishing those who indulge in acts, whether inside or outside the Courts, which tend to undermine the authority of law and bring it in disrepute and disrespect by scandalising it. When the Court exercises this power, it does not do so to vindicate the dignity and honour of the individual Judge who is personally attacked or scandalised, but to uphold the majesty of the law and of the administration of justice. The foundation of the judiciary is the trust and the confidence of the people in its ability to deliver fearless and impartial justice. When the foundation itself is shaken by acts which tend to create disaffection and disrespect for the authority of the Court by creating distrust in its working, the edifice of the judicial system gets eroded.
(2.)No person can flout the mandate of law of respecting the Courts for establishment of rule of law under the cloak of freedoms of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution. Such a freedom is subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by any law. Where a provision, in the law, relating to contempt imposes reasonable restrictions, no citizen can take the liberty of scandalising the authority of the institution of judiciary. Freedom of speech and expression, so far as they do not contravene the statutory limits as contained in the Contempt of Courts Act, are to prevail without any hindrance. However, it must be remembered that the maintenance of dignity of Courts is one of the cardinal principles of rule of law in a democratic set up and any criticism of the judicial institution couched in language that apparently appears to be mere criticism but ultimately results in undermining the dignity of the Courts cannot be permitted when found having crossed the limits and has to be punished. This Court in In Re, Harijai Singh and another (1996) 6 SCC 466 has pointed out that a free and healthy Press is indispensable to the function of a true democracy but, at the same time, cautioned that the freedom of Press is not absolute, unlimited and unfettered at all times and in all circumstances. Lord Dening in his Book "Road to Justice" observed that Press is the watchdog to see that every trial is conducted fairly, openly and above board but the watchdog may sometimes break loose and has to be punished for misbehaviour. Frankfurther, J. in Pennekamp vs. Florida (1946) 90 Led 1295 at p. 1313] observed :
"If men, including Judges and journalists were angels, there would be no problems of contempt of Court. Angelic Judges would be undisturbed by extraneous influences and angelic journalists would not seek to influence them. The power to punish for contempt, as a means of safeguarding Judges in deciding on behalf of the community as impartially as is given to the lot of men to decide, is not a privilege accorded to Judges. The power to punish for contempt of Court is a safeguard not for Judges as persons but for the function which they exercise."
(3.)The law of contempt has been enacted to secure public respect and confidence in the judicial process. If such confidence is shaken or broken, the confidence of the common man in the institution of judiciary and democratic set up is likely to be eroded which, if not checked, is sure to be disastrous for the society itself.